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Sen. Patrick demands transparency of CSCOPE - Odessa American: State

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Sen. Patrick demands transparency of CSCOPE

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Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:00 am

In what’s being called by opponents as an unprecedented about-face, the creators of online curriculum CSCOPE — used in Ector and Midland county schools — agreed to change some of its most controversial and criticized components after Sen. Dan Patrick demanded the reform begin immediately.

 However, teachers in Ector County Independent School District continue to give varying reports on their confidence in CSCOPE since its implementation in 2010.

The Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative agreed to ditch its privacy policy and post CSCOPE lessons on its public website, to open the entire product up to a review panel similar to a textbook critique and to end its nonprofit 501(c)3 arrangement.

Until now, all content used in the 875 public schools that lease CSCOPE has been considered private and password protected. It was sold and released to school districts before being subjected to any review or evaluation.

“Some of the stories that have circulated about the agreement are not accurate. The agreement is primarily like a copyright,” Chuck Isner, the regional president of the retired branch of the Texas State Teachers Association, said. He said he’s sure if anyone asked, he or she would be invited to view the CSCOPE lessons at an ECISD school.

Isner’s experience is limited to about one year with CSCOPE, though he’s in constant contact with teachers using it now. He said many of the criticisms are unfounded, but with all things involving public entities, he’d like to see more transparency.

“There’s problems with it. In and of itself, it’s not the magic bullet that will solve all problems, nor do I think it’s evil. The way that it’s implemented and if teachers are allowed flexibility in the way they use it, I think it’s probably much more successful in those circumstances,” Isner said.

One ECISD teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said she’s averse to CSCOPE and believes it lacks any depth. She said the lessons are vague and children are expected to move along at the same pace, which is impossible.

She said that at her school, CSCOPE is talked about every day and during the weekly professional learning community meetings, administrators are checking to see if teachers are following the CSCOPE lessons.

“For veteran teachers, it’s more stress and more pressure. We’re not given freedom,” she said.

She said the below-average scores across ECISD reflect CSCOPE’s ineptness.

“Teachers are seeing it’s not helping kids and (they’re) leaving the teaching field,” she said.

On Feb. 1, top education leaders in the state Senate grilled the creators of CSCOPE. That same day, ECISD Superintendent Hector Mendez said the degree to which a teacher uses the lesson plans offered by CSCOPE is up to the teacher. Teachers bring an artistry to the classrooms at ECISD, he said.  

A few days before the state Senate hearing, on Jan. 28, State Representative Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) filed HB 760 in a joint effort to ensure that online curriculum used in public schools falls under the oversight and approval of the State Board of Education.

“CSCOPE gives an explanation of the standards. It can lay out how to teach it, but we don’t force that,” he said.

Peggy Venable, the Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group, testified at the hearing.

“It’s the most jaw-dropping hearing I’ve ever participated in 20 years of testifying on various issues,” Venable said, calling CSCOPE’s bow to Sen. Patrick “damage control” following a shoddy job at PR by CSCOPE, she said. She has been calling for more transparency when it comes to CSCOPE’s nonprofit status, its lesson plans and its meetings, which are now open to the public.

She said the controversy over the curriculum system has been a good development and stirred up a grass-roots movement across Texas to finally unearth some answers from CSCOPE.

“Texas is known for caring about what’s in our textbooks and what’s being taught in our schools. I’m proud of that,” Venable said.

She added that parents and taxpayers have the right to ask for more information on what’s being taught in public schools. Also, she’s noticing that many Texas schools are opting out of continuing to use CSCOPE.

 “No one wants to look red-faced or say we got hoodwinked or cheated. But students deserve better than this,” Venable said.

From the press release on Feb. 8 on www.CSCOPE.us:

Changes to take effect immediately:

  • with this month’s meeting, all meetings of the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative
  • Governing Board will be public with notice requirements being met.
  • The TESCCC will begin a joint review process of all CSCOPE lessons with the State Board of Education beginning with Social Studies.
  • All civil and criminal penalties associated with the release of CSCOPE content, signed by both teachers and districts, will be removed from the Terms of Use Agreement.
  • Clarifying that all teachers and districts may post any and all CSCOPE lessons that they deem necessary.
  • CSCOPE will also undergo structural, governance and other changes:
  • Ending the nonprofit 501(c)3 status that incorporates CSCOPE.
  • Initiating the posting of CSCOPE lesson content to their public website.
  • Creating a standard curriculum review panel, comprised of: parents, teachers, school administrators, members of the State Board of Education, and TESCCC board members.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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